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LIAF 2021: Stings and the Amazing Students That Made Them

For the second year running we had the pleasure of working with MA Character Animation Students at Central Saint Martins. Students were asked to select one of our eight International Competition Programmes and pitch an idea for a sting, embracing the themes of their chosen programme. Most importantly of all, we asked them to be as creative as possible, consider any technique that they were drawn to and to let their imaginations run wild. They did not disappoint. So much so that, we couldn’t resist choosing more than one sting for some of our programmes – too many strong ideas and promising character designs for us to pass up.

We’ve been sharing these stings on social media and will continue to do so over the coming days.
We’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to all the students involved in this project, read on for their names and take note! And a special thank you to Shaun Clark (Course Leader) and Steve Roberts (Lead Animation Tutor) of Central Saint Martins, who expertly supervised the students through the entire production process.

For those of you considering an animation career path, MA Character Animation at CSM is a two-year course specialising in the performance of animated characters – you can find out more here.

Here are some words from the students about the ideas and production process behind the work:

Symbols – Ke Ren (International Competition Programme 1: Abstract Showcase)

The inspiration comes from the experience when I first came to London from Beijing, China, as well as from the artist Xubing who plays with words. Such changes made me have to face certain problems, such as the unfamiliar language, and the context which made me think about the meaning of text and communication. When text symbols are isolated from their linguistic contexts, how could they be understood and communicated? So I tried to convey an easy and fun way of communication by ‘abstract’ language so people can all get it. There are two aspects of the text, one is the meaning itself which evolved from the language, the culture of the nation, another is the imagery of what it looks like (the pictographic). It needs ‘universality’ so it can be understood. When the words are deconstructed, they’re just a bunch of meaningless symbols, but people can give them meaning again by visualising them. That’s why I thought about Emoji’s – they combine various complex text to make them easy to understand and give a new identity. It’s kind of like playing with the words – giving them meanings in different contexts.

Picnic – Amber King (International Competition Programme 2 – From Absurd to Zany)

The category “From Absurd to Zany” suited me down to the ground, as it meant that I felt totally free to make something as bizarre and nonsensical as I wanted. I’ve always had a fondness for monster films, so I blended some aspects of monstrous icons such as Frankenstein(’s monster), Godzilla, and King Kong. King Kong even has a very obvious homage at the end, where we see a gorilla super-fan of his take his admiration a bit too far. I’m fond of line-less art and bright colours, and some influences for the visuals included Untitled Goose Game by House House, and Katamari Damacy by Keita Takahashi.

I also love blending media, so I added real-life aspects to the film such as the beach shells and picnic food. The cardboard city was built by myself and Vaibhavi, and I constructed the huge gorilla out of a number of photographs. Overall, I wanted the audience to feel free and like anything could happen. I’m really grateful for the freedom I had in making this sting for LIAF, and I hope that you enjoy watching it. Picnic couldn’t have been made without the fantastic animation work of my team mates Vaibhavi Venkataraman and Haiqi Zhou, and the brilliant music was created for the film by Siobhan Connellan.

Kebab Night – Sophya Kebets (International Competition Programme 2 – From Absurd to Zany)

It started with jokes about absurd things like a rotisserie chicken shop that had the whole shop turning around the chicken or a kebab place that was spinning. When it was just a pitch we were all able to pitch in with new silly ideas like making the character in love with the kebab as if it was fate for him to eat it that night or making the napkin float all the way to his happy and dirty face after the first bite. During the session of filming for the live action references it was amusing to act like the protagonist and to understand how someone would react to this weird kebab shop. It was all 2D animated but we used 3D to model and reference the kebab shop. All four of us learnt so much about animation production and enjoyed creating the sting for this project.

Guests – Polina Bakh (International Competition Programme 3: Playing With Emotion)

Throughout our lives, we have to learn to cope with difficult and unexpected feelings. My film explores the concept of mindfulness, and the idea that you can’t choose your emotions, much like you can’t choose your family, but you can choose how you react to their arrival. The inspiration for this film came from a poem called the Guesthouse by 13th century islamic poet, Rumi. At its core is this idea that our emotions are guests in our mind, and that we should welcome each one and see what it has to teach us.

I wanted to keep the design of this film very simple and focus on strong performance, especially for the two characters that represent anger and sadness. The palette is limited, I decided on colours that in Western cultures evoke certain emotions: red for anger, a deep blue for sorrow and a calming blue for the Mind character. I deliberately chose to have no dialogue and instead commissioned a musician friend of mine, Tom Hyatt to compose a piano track that follows the journey of the characters throughout the story, with some additional foley sounds. I have no prior experience in writing, directing or animating before joining MACA, so it was a real honour to have the LIAF team choose my idea for this series of stings.

Hench Girl Summer – Beatriz Antunes Ribeiro (International Competition Programme 4: Being Human)

Hench Girl Summer focuses on modern teenage society’s unrealistic standards and how social media impacts their behaviours to achieve these standards. The theme portrayed is body dysmorphia that then leads to body positivity. Although it is quite a sensitive and perhaps triggering topic, the goal was to shine a positive light on body positivity through various different shapes (from round and soft to pointy and rigid), a range of colours and engaging character designs.

Making this trailer was as fun as the final product turned out to be and I believe it really translates. Opting to pursue an early 00’s Cartoon Network animation style allowed us, as animators, to really push the limits of animation and had loads of fun portraying such a relevant topic.

Tug of War – Junar Kim (International Competition Programme 4: Being Human)

Being human, we have been fighting against each other over different backgrounds, colours, or ideas for millions of years. But now, we’re facing much greater threats such as the pandemic, climate changes, and others putting the entire human race and our world in danger. The only way for us to survive is to stop fighting each other and fight all together as humanity. The film was made in the traditional style of frame-by-frame animation using TV Paint and created by myself – Junar Kim, Filipa Castro, and Benjamin Lau.

Followed – Marie Geert (International Competition Programme 5: Into the Dark)

The story is inspired by the fear of walking alone at night as a woman and the precautions women need to take like not wearing their hair in a ponytail so a potential assaulter could grab it and not listening to music so you will be able to hear what’s coming up behind you. These are just a few of the many steps to how women can stay safe at night. By making this trailer I wanted to portray how this fear of walking alone at night as a woman is justified as the character is being grabbed in the end and how we as women should not feel like we are overreacting for taking certain precautions when being alone. By merging 2D animation with a live action background, it enhances the creepy element of the story and it being closer to something that could happen in real life. The sound consists mostly of the sound effects in the scene but later on adding a supernatural growl to play with the idea of her doubt whether this is just something she is imagining or whether her fear is about to come true.

Teeth – October (International Competition Programme 5: Into the Dark)

Lockdown Diaries – Amelia Tovey (International Competition Programme 6 – Animated Documentaries)

Lockdown Diaries was made using hand-drawn animation, pencil & charcoal in notebooks, and shot on location of each contributor’s lockdown. Though the pandemic affected all of us, our experiences differ greatly, therefore it felt appropriate to approach the making of this film in a very collaborative way: creating the space for each contributor to tell their story in their own hand, within the pages of a diary – the object as a symbol for personal reflection.

Running provided me with an escape and a cherished opportunity to leave the house when restrictions had rationed something I never thought I’d lose. Yasmin Saito Alkuwari reflected on the important role her balcony played while biding time in her flat in London, while Jiayue Li discusses how the act of cooking and sharing food helped her connect to others. I enjoyed the playful approach to filmmaking, developing the narrative collectively as we go, and though we were producing something personal, the filmmaking became another medium through which we could connect to each other.

Necessary Shadows – Penny Whitehouse (International Competition Programme 6 – Animated Documentaries)

Necessary Shadows is a visual supposition of what Laing called The Divided Self. It imagines a preface to a case study he references in the book of the same name about a young girl that he has met in a mental ward. It’s about about how life divides us from ourselves, with its ever present pressure to assimilate our private inner selves and the compliant outer self we offer up to the world. It’s about psychosis, about tension, about the defining decade of the sixties. Most of all it is about empathy which is what made me choose stop-motion as the primary medium for the piece – it naturally has a level of physicality and fragility.

Animated documentaries have carved out a unique path of expression over the last couple of decades and I wanted to give myself the challenge of working with real anecdotal material as well as being really interested in the genre and how it keeps redefining itself. This ident was my first experience of directing, producing and animating a team project and as a team of three woman our combined skills produced something in a short amount of time that I’m really proud of.

The Search – Emma Kelly (International Competition Programme 7 – Looking For Answers)

From the beginning I knew that I wanted to portray a character desperate to find some sort of fulfillment. Looking back, I was definitely influenced by all the time we’d been spending indoors. My initial ideas revolved around a character discovering houseplants, and using them to give his life meaning. I quickly realised that I was much more interested in my character, Otto, than the plants themselves. I wanted to explore his mental struggle as he tries to make a positive change in his life. So, I took Otto out of the household setting, and into a surreal landscape. I liked the notion that an idea, like a seed, needs the right conditions to grow. This led me to the conclusion of the film, with Otto embodying the change he wanted to make.